A Plant Story – the plant in our family tree

Our family tree includes a plant.  Once lush with many shiny, leathery green leaves, my now straggly, not-so-attractive Hoya plant has a 3 generation history. It began as a cutting from a plant of my mom’s, her plant being a cutting from my paternal grandfather’s. Grandpa’s plant, of unknown origins and age, covered the entire ceiling of an enclosed back porch in the farm house where my dad and his siblings grew up. Mom’s plant moved east with us when I was 5, living in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Illinois, and eventually coming back to Washington with my parents.  At some point in my 20s I began my plant, now over 40 yrs. old. Not sure how long mom’s lived. Her’s began to have mealy bug problems in its/her later years, and though she still had a Hoya in her 90s, when she moved from her house, it may not have been her original.

My plant, though dropping lots of leaves, continues to bloom pale pink velvety stars, with centers of  red centered pale yellow stars.

The plant genus Hoya was named after Thomas Hoy, a respected plant biologist and propagator in England in the late 1700s, early 1800s. Hoyas grow in the wild throughout Asia, especially India, some species are also found in Australia. The soft velvety pale pink variety of our family plant is Hoya carnosa, and though it is sometimes called Wax Plant, I’ve never heard anyone in my family call it that. I would call it velvet plant, the pink stars so fuzzy you want to pet them, but if you do you will get sticky fingers from the sweet nectar, which is very tasty! Hoya carnosa is said to have been cultivated for 200 years. If I add up the age of my plant, my mom’s, and think of how long ago Grandpa started his, I estimate the Hubbard plant is from a very early cultivator!

Being a tropical vine, it is “natural” for the plant to get “viney”,  and perhaps drop lower leaves as it adds new growth. Over the years I’ve cut out old dead vines and it has responded by increased new leaves and blooms further up the vines. Not having a tropical forest to climb up through, its vines, trained back on themselves around a trellis, made a visual mass of evergreen leaves when it had more leaves. Hoyas are easy to grow, survivors of many conditions, not wanting too much water or attention, but often tricky to get to bloom. Someone once gave me a Hoya they had that never bloomed, I kept it for years but never could get it to bloom.  I was taught they must be root bound to bloom, perhaps blooming when stressed.  Mine has always bloomed, regardless of where it is located. I’m thinking of cutting my plant back, even re-potting it, which will mean no blooms for possibly years, but it has sent up a few new leaves from its base, a hopeful sign.

Aunt Jackie’s second generation Hoya growing in the same house Grandpa grew his. She has not let hers cover the ceiling however! (thank you Shaun Hubbard for the photo)

So what happened to Grandpa’s plant?  My cousin Shaun tells me when her parents, my Uncle Bruce and Aunt Jackie, who own the original farm house, moved the house in the 60s the plant went to a hair salon where my cousin Laurie was working at the time. Aunt Jackie took cuttings and when the old enclosed porch was remodeled into a room, Aunt Jackie’s second generation plant was reinstalled, where it continues to grow today.  Over 90 herself, Jackie continues to pass out cuttings from her second generation plant, as grandpa did with the original plant. There are no doubt extended family Hubbard Hoya plants in the homes of many family members and friends. (Any cousins reading this who have their own Hoya story, I’d love to hear it!)

When I do cut back my plant, I have someone in mind to pass a cutting on to, who I think will nurture the cutting into a fourth generation plant. And if my cutting doesn’t make it…..there’s always Aunt Jackie’s!

Friendly pansies and violas

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this little face seems to be waving ‘hello’ and was used on one of the photo cards I sold for 7 years.

Pansies, which can be found in a variety of colors, traditionally come in shades of purples and blues, including dark maroons, to shades of yellows, even orange. There are also bronze colored and white ones.  Traditionally pansies are bi or tri-colored, though solid color ones are more popular in recent years. The wide variety of traditional tri-colors can be harder to find.

Pansies, whose scientific name is Viola tricolor var. hortensis, (though some newer hybrids have been given their own scientific namesare not fond of hot weather, which is why nurseries are already letting their supplies twiddle. They will grow in partial shade to stay cool and are generally easy to grow.

DSC01261Pansies are considered an early spring annual, but I’ve had spring plants, after being cut back when they get ‘leggy’, bloom on a second-growth the same growing season. Pansies planted in the fall will bloom into early winter and come back in the spring if protected from very harsh cold weather.

DSC01260So what is the difference between a viola and pansy?

A Colorado State University Cooperative Extension article has this to say about the difference: “….. sweet violets, bedding violas, and pansies are all classified as “violas.” Sweet violets are descended from the European wild sweet violet, v. odorata; bedding violas (the flower that we usually call “violas”) were hybridized from pansies and v. cornuta. Pansies developed from the wild violas v. lutea and v. tricolor (“johnny-jump-up”). Sixty species are native to the U.S. and about 100 varieties are offered for sale.

I find all that confusing, as do most nursery people, because in most nurseries if you ask for violas folks know you want the smaller pedaled blossoms, and if you ask for pansies, you want the larger blooms.  I’ve read one distinction is pansies have four petals pointing upwards, and only one pointing down, while violas have three petals pointing up and two pointing down.

imageI’m not sure I agree, this diminutive scrunchie- faced sweetheart is clearly a viola in my book but seems to have 4 up and 1 down!

Pansies and violas are edible, they can be “candied” and make a colorful garnish for spring  salads and other dishes, but if you plan to eat them grow them yourself or be sure you buy your plants from a nursery that grows only organic plants to avoid chemical fertilizers and pesticides, an important caution for all edible plants. Violas readily re-seed and appear in our garden year after year, those plants being the preferred ones to eat.

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A sweet gift from Mike!

As a child I was given an area in our yard to plant and I always planted pansies. I loved the color variations and their little faces. I still like to plant a few in pots on the porch, safe from deer and slugs (the later still seem to find them from time to time). Yesterday, after looking in two big nurseries for plants, all we found was a large planter full of very traditional pansies! It was like my childhood in a yellow barrel! I thought it was pricey but Mike insisted on buying it for me. A very cheery indulgence!

This gift came after a breast and lymph node ultrasound, 18 months post-mastectomy. I had assertively advocated to get the test, rather than wait the recommended 6 months for an MRI or mammogram. It had been an ultrasound in 2014, 20 months after a lumpectomy for cancer,  that showed a lymph node metastasis, which resulted in findings of more cancer in my breast. Yesterday I was lectured at the ultrasound test on how ultrasounds aren’t valid screening tests, in spite of my own experience. (Used in Europe for screening, there is no radiation exposure and they are cheaper). My oncologist had agreed to order the test, for my peace of mind, but the tech and radiologist did not agree, even telling me MRIs were not good screening tests, only mammograms were valid, contradicting information I’ve previously been told. I had never said I would not get a mammogram or MRI, I wanted this test now rather than wait a full year between the other tests. A wait of a year two years ago would have had a very different outcome.

DSC01878Although the results of the ultra sound were good, the lecturing left me in a grumpy mood, angry at being treated like a person incapable of making my own health care decisions. Looking at all the little pansy faces in the yellow barrel made me feel in good company….they always seem cheery, yet also a bit disgruntled! Maybe that is part of their life-long appeal to me, they reflect my own slightly skeptical cautiousness toward life, even while looking for the positive!

Hope you can find some pansies and violas for your garden, they do have great personalities and are good company in the garden or in a pot on your porch!

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Although pansies are not a big draw for pollinators, this Swallowtail Butterfly seems at least curious.

 

 

 

 

The Background of Life

"classic" NW - ferns & moss growing on Big Leaf Maple

A “classic” – ferns & moss growing on Big Leaf Maple.  A background scene in NW woods.

 

We all have a background to our lives, that which is not the focus, not the front-and-center, but as in a photo, the setting which makes up the background.  It is like the backdrop on our particular stage of life.  Because it’s so familiar, sometimes what’s in the background becomes unnoticed until it is disrupted and catches our attention, then, briefly, it might move to the foreground.

For those living in a residential or urban environment, the background of life includes perhaps the ‘hum’ of certain noises that are constant, as well as various buildings, empty lots, the neighbors second car that seems to always be parked in the street and the ubiquitous Rhododendron, unnoticed until it bursts into colorful spring bloom. Ever notice that if you leave something in the yard for an extended period, you just don’t ‘see’ it after a while?  Even the neighbors purple garage door becomes mundane after a few months!

We pass these background ‘props’ every day en route to our activities and daily dramas.  If asked, sometimes people aren’t able to identify these ordinary props in their life. (Remember the older Newlyweds game show, they’d ask one of the spouses to describe something in the couples every day life, like the color of a room, and the person wouldn’t be able do it.) Someone unfamiliar to your neighborhood might notice something you barely take notice of any more.  In our homes  it is much the same, the hum of the refrigerator, the knickknack on the corner table you couldn’t describe if asked.

As I sort, delete, and organize photos on my computer today I’m drawn to the photos I’ve taken in the woods.  I have folders for ‘wildflowers’, ‘birds’, ‘butterflies’, ‘garden flowers’, ‘Mt. Rainer’, etc.  but the photos of daily life in the NW woods, the flora that’s here whether flowers, critters or butterflies show up or not, are really just as remarkable as these “showier” facets of Nature. These are of the ‘common’ plants most people in the Coastal region of the Pacific Northwest have in the backdrop of their lives if they live in or near woods.  Some of these are seasonal, most are not. They are the plants that make the Evergreen State green.

My deep appreciation for what makes up the background of life here is obvious by all the photos I’ve taken of the trees and plants I see every day. I never lose my awe of  giant Douglas Firs and Big Leaf Maples, of the lacy needles of Hemlock, or the brown fibrous bark of Cedar.  The ferns, evergreen bushes, and tiny plants that make up the understory of the woods seem the stuff of fairylands to me.

To someone who does not live here, who might be walking in the PNW woods for the first time, or who only gets to do so occasionally, these stalwarts of the woods are anything but ordinary.  It’s nice to see with fresh eyes these remarkable plants that are the backdrop to life on the Northwest stage.

I selected some of my favorite photos taken over the past 7 years to share. Hope you enjoy this walk in the woods. No woodland wild flowers (though most of the plants shown have blossoms), no colorful berries, no birds or critters, no butterflies, no exotics, just native green stuff….plants, trees, and a few fungi (because in a NW woods, fungi are abundant!).

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(Click on fern photo to start slide show of photo gallery below, or roll cursor over bottom of each photo to read captions. Not all photos are captioned. Most photos are taken in the woods where we live, a few from nearby walks.)

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Heaven and Nature Dancing Together

It's name being Trail Plant, this lovely plant has dusky gray undersides to its leaves and grows...along trails!

It’s name being Trail Plant, this lovely plant has dusky gray undersides to its leaves and grows…along trails!

If you live in the Northwest, you know today was not a day to be inside, so this is short!  For me it was a day for taking my iTouch, my smallest camera, and heading into the woods where I found favorite plants along the trail.  It was a day for my senses to experience some of the heavenly delights Nature has to offer.

The first ethereal (dictionary definition: extremely delicate and light in a way that seems too perfect for this world) gift from Nature was in song. The Swainson’s Thrush, an elusive member of the thrush family, is related to the American Robin, though, unlike the Robin, it is not likely to be in your front yard looking for worms or nesting in your eaves.  Though I’ve occasionally seen Swainson’s Thrushs near the house, (sadly, I found a dead one that had hit a window several years ago) they generally nest and forage in conifer forests, where in the evening and morning, they sing a song that is both eery and heavenly.  You can listen to a recording of it here: Swainson’s Thrush, but a recording does not have the ethereal sound when Big Leaf Maples and giant Firs provide the acoustics for the high notes as they resonate throughout the forest.  On gray days the birds often sing all day.  Though a sunny day, this morning several Swainson’s Thrushes sang well into early afternoon before they abruptly stopped. Being territorial, each song was coming from a different direction…a surround sound stereo performance!  As I sat on the back porch I felt transported to another place, a celestial place.

IMG_0277While on my walk in the woods my next sense delight from Nature was the heavenly scent of Bald Hip Roses. These diminutive little roses, growing on spiny, spindly bushes, are the most scented of the wild roses, possibly of all roses.  Bald Hip Roses do not have the aggressive growth habits of our other native rose, the Nootka Rose.  Single bushes are found here and there in semi-dense forested areas.  They are at the peak of their bloom this time of year.  Short lived blossoms fill the surrounding air with a rose scent that can send one swooning. Roses have represented the Divine for centuries, their scent being described as the scent of God. And of course poets have written of roses as the quintessential symbol of romantic love. The petite Bald Hip Rose is truly Nature’s gift of love to our olfactory senses!

IMG_0284The final representation of this dance of  Heaven and Nature was the arrival of the first Clodius Parnessium butterfly in our yard.  Parnassiam Butterflies are the most ethereal of butterflies with their semi-transparent wings. One can imagine that they are the butterflies of Angels!  In their caterpillar stage they are completely depend on bleeding-hearts, making them very habitat specific. Fortunately we have a forest full of wild bleeding-hearts so each June we see the arrival of newly metamorphosed Parnessiums floating around to necter on blooming Dame’s Rocket.

Another trail favorite, a plant that loves moist soil, is Fendler's Waterleaf

Another trail favorite, and another plant that loves moist soil, is Fendler’s Waterleaf

The title to this post was inspired by a chant by Paramahansa Yogananda entitled Spirit and Nature Dancing Together.

Heaven and Nature seemed to be dancing all day today! Hope you had time to enjoy the performance!

Plant Survivialist

Forget-me-nots surprise us each year, showing up in new places!

Forget-me-nots surprise us each year, showing up in new places as well as old!

This post is long with pictures, plant friends that have been around for years, most of them decades.  Enjoy their stories, perhaps on a day you want to sit, enjoy garden delights, and read about old friends! (Please do comment on your own long standing plant friends!)

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The history of gardening in our little spot in the woods is not a story of lush gardens overflowing with successive blooms,  beautiful four-season foliage, abundant vegetable beds, summer bouquets of fresh picked flowers, and perennials maturing into grand dames in a 32-year-old garden.  Nope, although there have been many little bouquets, and something blooming somewhere most the bloom season, it has been a story of survival.  My motto from the get go has been, if it survives, plant more of the same. I attribute the hodgepodge and weediness to clay soil and shade from the surrounding forest, which has been more successful in growing grand dames. Douglas Firs and Big Leaf Maples, tall thirty years ago, are still growing. While soil and shade are major factors, gardening ups and downs have also been parallel to my own health journeys, my own survival.

This year is not the first year gardening and yard work have taken a back seat for more pressing, time-consuming life events.  It is unique in that both Mike and I have been out of commission, he recovering from bladder cancer surgery, I, still adjusting to my own cancer experience and living with old chronic ‘issues’ that prevent me from doing heavier digging and lifting. Neither of us have had time to garden, except a little early season weeding. I hope it’s a one of a kind year, but there have been too many years when the body prevented the garden of my daydreams for me to hope any more for those lush beds of flowers and abundant veggies.

Last spring, in response to my threat, and wish, to tear down the dilapidated 30-year-old fencing around our veggie/flower DSC08288garden, and mow everything down, Mike promised to focus on rehabilitating our garden.  He worked hard, tearing down and replacing fencing, building new raised beds, hauling in our annual pile of ‘good’ dirt and store-bought manure to tease plants into growing here in spite of hard clay soil.  He worked diligently, until firewood, mom care, and other projects demanded his precious time away from the workplace.  We planted the new beds, weeded old beds outside the fenced garden, moved old perennials into new soil, put down fresh sawdust around bushes…it looked good, not lush, but closer to thriving than it had in a few years.  There were still areas yet to be revived…they were to be this year’s projects.

Now, once again, as other years when health challenges intervened good intentions, what’s surviving is doing so with no help from us. Last year’s efforts are buried in grass and weeds.  Up through the weeds bulbs have bloomed, Primulas magically appeared, the ever-reseeding forget-me-nots paint areas in robin’s egg blue, and hardy columbines make for happy hummingbirds.  Oriental Poppies and Geum are starting to show the promise of flowers, in spite of not receiving their annual dose of fish fertilizer. Today, after digging a small bed to plant some vegetable seeds, I looked at the weeds and plants around me and the usual feelings of frustration and guilt started but gave way for a deep appreciation for these survivors. I love these stalwart plants, some have been with me longer than I’ve known Mike. They have survived neglect, massive weeds, cold springs, wet summers….and pulled me through difficult times. Let me introduce you to some of “the survivors”. Long as the list is, there are others.

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This hanging Fuchsia has been with me more years than I remember. Long before Mike came along, so at least 25 years. Other fuchsias come and go, some lasting several years, but through many 20 degree winters and dry spells of forgetful watering practices, this bright friend comes back each year. I look with trepidation each spring to see if  tiny leaves are forming on the bare, dead looking sticks. So far it has not disappointed me.

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Though there are now few left that bloom, these daffodils moved with me from the rented farm house I lived in before moving here when I was 29. That’s 32 years ago. Who knows how long they had lived there. I will miss them when they all give up. My Mom loved them and always wanted to pick some to take home when she would visit in the spring. I bought her some similar ones several years ago for her garden, but they weren’t quite the same, too hybrid for her tastes!

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This bleeding heart has been around about 20 years, it’s been moved several times and now lives in a raised bed, but it didn’t bloom much this year. I know it needs to be replaced, but it’s hard to part with an old friend.

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Another oldie from the farm house of 32 years ago, these old columbines, in shades of purples and pinks, both seed themselves and come back as hardy perennials.

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When Mike and I married 24 years ago we received a nursery gift certificate and bought this pale pink camellia which has never thrived, not enough sun, but faithfully blooms in abundance each year. It’s planted where a few car mishaps have bumped it. Winter of 2011 heavy snow partly snapped off half the plant, we propped it up through last season but alas, the branches eventually broke off. This year it still blooms, but not this pale pink, it has survived by reverting to the hardy dark pink of its ancestors (see below).

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If you have explored this blog, you know my love of Primulas, partially because they like shade and seem happy to live here. These tiny lavender ones grow in an old enamel tub and have come back every year for at least 10 years.

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These red cowslips, another Primula favorite, also grow in a tub, putting them ‘out’ resulted in losses. The traditional yellow ones, a little patch in the garden, are the brightest yellow flowers I’ve ever grown.

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IMG_0943 More Primulas, these double petaled ones, began as one plant each in pink and yellow and now form a large mass in the garden. After blooming each year they put up larger leaves and compete with weedy buttercups, Mike diligently weeds them most years, but buttercup is tenacious!

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Lilacs aren’t supposed to grow here, they like lots of sun and sandy soil. I brought a few wild starts home from eastern Washington years ago. They don’t thrive, but they survive! Some years there is only one bloom, some a dozen, certainly not most people’s experiences with lilac bushes, which are usually covered with blooms, but I’m proud of ‘my’ lilacs for surviving against the odds!

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Another immigrant, I found this bush rose as a little start in the grass just before I left the farm house 32 years ago, it must have been pulled out years earlier and mowed over, as I had not seen it in the years I lived there. Moved here, and it proceeded to take over the front yard with highly scented little red roses  every June. Though a large bush it is not invasive, I’ve only had a few starts over the years to pass on. (see close-up of blossom below)

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A beau from the past, 27 years ago, bought me a peace rose. It did not survive (obviously the relationship didn’t either!) but from the root-stock grew a gangly climbing rose with floppy scented roses. Anything that survives here stays, it lives in a brushy corner and gets absolutely no care. A true survivor!

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I had a hydrangea for ten years or more that died, I felt like I had lost a pet. Hydrangeas also don’t like the growing conditions offered here. On the road to Quinault Lodge on the west side of the Olympic Peninsula, a wet and shady place, there are hydrangeas that have gone ‘wild’. I picked a few, brought them home and stuck them in a pot, they rooted and became two hardy hydrangea bushes.

True geraniums have been a god send in the post early spring bloom season. This one grows huge and blooms nearly all summer, even putting out a second late bloom after it is cut back. It has been around for years and thrives, offering lush color along the path to our meditation building.

True geraniums have been a godsend in the late spring bloom season when bulbs, Primulas, and other spring flowers are through blooming. This one grows huge and blooms nearly all summer, even putting out a second late bloom after it is cut back. It has been around for years and thrives, offering lush color along the path to our meditation building.
Also from the farmhouse, I stuck some of these calla lillies in the ground near the house and forgot about them for several years. Not getting much water under the eaves, they just went dormant, but one year decided to wake up and grow. Was I surprised to see them! Another example of plant resilience!

Also from the farmhouse, I stuck some of these calla lilies in the ground near the house and forgot about them for several years. Not getting water under the eaves, they went dormant, but one year decided to wake up and grow. Was I surprised to see them! Another example of plant resiliency!

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I had red geums for several years, but they died and replacements of the same did not do well.  These orange ones, at least 10 years old, faltered slightly last year when divided and moved, but this year they are once again lush and just starting to bloom.

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IMG_6337 this little rhody got my thinking process going today about plants surviving. A gift from a dear friend many years ago, it has never grown big, but it has survived, been moved and a few years ago bloomed several blooms (top picture)!  A mishap broke a branch last summer and a few weeks ago a deer ate another. Down to one little stick of a branch, it boldly is putting out one bloom this year – determined! A miniature rhody, named Hummingbird, died this year after many years. I sadly pulled it out yesterday. So happy to see this one start to bloom today.

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Rhododendrons generally do well here, but about three years ago the buds of this one became the favorite spring food of a few squirrels. This year it managed to bloom before they remembered how tasty it was! A larger rhody had 50% of its branches removed by a mountain beaver a few months ago, it looks sad and weary, few buds remained to bloom, but it is putting up little shoots on each gnawed off branch! Might take a few years, but I believe the rhody will recuperate just fine.

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Not perennials, but these re-seeding poppies have also been with me since the farm house days 32 years ago. They come up where they want, some years in great abundance and I need to ‘weed’ them, some years they worry me by not showing in great numbers. Also in this picture is another long time plant friend, fever few.

Another hardy rose, this one from my parent's house on Queen Anne Hill in Seattle, climbs all over our garden gate. Another Seattle transfer, an old peach tree they moved here 30 years ago, doesn't produce much in the way of fruit, but has lovely pink blooms.

Another hardy rose, this one, from my parent’s house on Queen Anne Hill in Seattle, climbs all over our garden gate. Another Seattle transfer, an old peach tree moved here 30 years ago, doesn’t produce much in the way of fruit, but has lovely pink blooms.

Thank you for meeting my friends, the survivors who have taught me to persevere, to bloom in spite of the odds, to add what DSC01242beauty you can to the world, no matter the conditions, or mishaps life delivers.

DSC09064_2Happy Mother’s Day to the mother’s among my readers!  That includes those who nurture and ‘mother’ their plants and animals! Visiting my Mom Saturday, while the sun still shines, I will be spending Mother’s Day planting seeds into what promises to be wet soil and appreciating my long time friends as they soak up Mother Nature’s gift of water!

Meet my little friend Pulmonaria

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Blue Ensign Pulmonaria

 One of my early thoughts after being diagnosed with cancer, among the fears, anger and bewilderment, was “I don’t think I’ll be so ‘into’ spring this year.” I felt cheated by this thought. Cancer has a way of forcing itself front and center, diminishing the importance of everything else in life. But it turns out Spring trumps cancer, at least for me, and I hope for others I know challenged by the demands of cancer or other serious health issues.

There are no answers, I’ve looked and asked, to the cancer questions that run amok in my mind.  Is it gone? Did the surgery get it all? Will it return? Soon? Later? Are the protocols and supplements I’m doing going to work to ‘mop’ up any left over cells or prevent re-occurrence?  With no answers, the questions get boring.  And when compared to the daily evolution of brilliant greens, bright colors, bird songs and courtships going on in our yard……Nature wins, it is a much better show!

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So let me introduce you to a little plant I love that grabs my attention every time I step outside. Some of you may be familiar with Pulmonaria officinalis or Lungwort.  I highly recommend it for those who want the satisfaction of early spring color, regardless of the weather.  Like primulas, Pulmonaria is an early bloomer, is very happy with shade or partial sun, and though garden books say it does best in rich soil, in my experience it is quite happy in clay soil, maybe not as prolific as it could be, but happy, because it also likes moisture and if you grow it in soil that drains well it will need a lot of watering.  My Pulmonarias seem to need, and get, no care, but magically reappear each spring.

The Latin and common name both indicate the traditional use of the plant in herbal medicine. It was used to treat lung conditions such as bronchial infections, asthma, coughs, etc.  Modern herbal medicine does not recommend internal use of Pumonaria due to a toxic alkaloid found in the plant.  It still has a use externally for wounds, burns, and other skin treatments.

A hardy perennial, it is a rhizome plant best propagated by plant division.  Although it does produce seeds they are difficult to germinate.

If you love plants that bring visions of old cottage gardens, this is the time of year to scour nurseries for Lungwort in shades of pinks, blues, and white. There is also variety in leaf color, adding interesting foliage to a garden even after the plant has bloomed.

You were looking for a reason to go nursery shopping weren’t you?

Whoops! Forgot to mention – one of the most dear proof plants!

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Nature’s Heart

An Oyster shell worn by time and the ocean into a heart-shape

There will be an abundance of quotes, articles, blog entries, and Facebook posts for Valentine’s Day about love, chocolate, and other related topics. What I find fascinating about Valentine’s day is the remarkable heart-shape, found throughout Nature, and having little resemblance to the human heart.

There is a debated theory that the heart-shaped seeds of a plant called Silphium, found in ancient Cyrene (now Libya) may be the origin of the heart shape representing love. Used both for seasoning and medicinally, the basis of the theory comes from one of the plant’s medicinal uses.  By regulating a woman’s menstrual cycle, it was used as a method of birth control. This connection to sexuality is the basis of the theory. This plant is thought to be extinct, though that too is debated.

A compelling theory, but it is not necessary to look to antiquity to find botanical heart shapes with a love connection.  Here is a sampling of plants which are likely growing in your garden, or seen while walking in the northwest woods. These are all good candidates for a heart-shape-as-symbol-of-love theory (some better than others!)

Violets, which even on this cold winter day are lush and green outside my door, have perfect, tiny heart-shaped leaves.  Used for many medicinal purposes, Viola tricolor is listed as a heart tonic in many herbal manuals.

Lemon Balm, or Melissa officinalis, a personal favorite, also outside the door, this year the hardy leaves surviving our mild winter.  Among its many culinary and medicinal uses, it is used as a relaxant, calming anxiety, and in treating depression.  Hey, chocolate makes the same claims and it is the “official” food of love!

Lungwort, Pulmonaris officinalis, a common garden flower in shady NW gardens, has beautiful, often speckled, elongated heart-shaped leaves.  It’s medicinal claims, clearing lungs and treating bronchial infections and coughs, may not be romantic, but who can be romantic with a bad cough! It may well have a role in a successful tryst on a wintry day!

False Lily-of-the valley, Maianthemum dilatatum, is a NW native wild flower with heart-shaped leaves.  It was used as a wash for sore eyes by native people…let’s see, there might be a connection here between the saying (while looking at one’s sweetheart) “you are a sight for sore eyes.”  Even if not directly love related, it is a lovely heart-shaped plant.

The blooms of Pacific Bleeding Heart, Dicentra formosa, while not as distinctively heart-shaped as domesticate Bleeding Heart flowers, are none the less heart-shaped at the base.  They are the singular host food for the caterpillar of the beautiful Parnassian butterfly. That alone makes it a love plant in my book! And of course the garden variety Bleeding Heart is a beautiful flower that evokes love by both its shape and passionate pink color.

This list could go on and on, other NW species with heart-shaped leaves are Wild Ginger and some Trilliums.  If you are looking for heart-shaped seeds, several mallows, specifically the Velvet-leaf plant, have little hearts.

Hearts are everywhere in Nature. Who has not found a heart-shaped rock? And, this is weird I know, but the rear view of several animals, Mule deer in particular, are a nice heart-shaped patch of white.  Maybe not sexy to you, but I bet it is to an amorous potential sweetheart for the deer!

Happy Valentine’s Day!

nothing says "Be Mine" like Bleeding Hearts & Forget-me-nots!